In the 2009 General Elections, contesting parties came up with political blueprints or ideologies only a few weeks into the campaign period. Malawians had little time to scrutinise what the parties would offer them.
This is typical of local politics, where politicians seem to forget that ideologies are the face and direction of any political grouping.
Similarly, some presidential contestants failed to declare running mates in time, contrary to aging democracies where naming a running mate does not take long.
For example, former president Bingu wa Mutharika of DPP postponed to the afternoon hours presentation of nomination papers for the 2009 polls because he had not chosen his running mate.
“Politicians in Malawi forget that parties should base their political action and election programme on an ideology, which in social studies is a set of ideals backed by goals and methods. While political parties are established on clear ideologies in other countries such as the US, in Malawi ideologies tend to be the same,” argues Sane Zuka, a development economist at the Polytechnic of the University of Malawi.
For example, in the US, the ruling Democrat generally represents liberal ideals, while the Republican Party commonly represents conservative ideals.
President of the Republican Party (RP) Stanley Masauli however, argues his party is different and does not see why it should hide its ideology. Masauli notes that when a household has all the basic needs, people will ably contribute to development.
On how that could be achieved, the RP president says there would be massive investment in the area of agriculture, in which case all MYP bases will be revamped as a way of creating jobs.
But Masauli hints that RPâ€™s focus is on direct improvement on the household because that is where most of social ills emanate from due to failure to make ends meet.
“We stand for improvement of social life for development to take place even in homes. Come 2014, backed by our manifesto, the electorate should be assured of positive change,” he states, adding, RP was the first party to choose a running mate and concede defeat in the 2009 polls.
How about other parties? For the Peopleâ€™s Transformation Party (Petra), it believes in Umunthu (human dignity). The Umunthu ideology is based on sustained human development attained through policies, actions and strategies that promote integrity, self-reliance, dignity, hard work, unity, justice and fairness. Petraâ€™s Kamuzu Chibambo said the party is the architect of the Umunthu slogan.
Memories are also fresh that when RP was formed on a social democrat ideology in 2004, DPP championed it after its birth in 2005. In fact, DPP won a landslide in 2009 polls due to the food security policy coupled with sound monetary policies.
To achieve its food policy, DPP during its infancy stage channelled more resources to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) through the Ministry of Agriculture. But was the ideology sustained? Unfortunately not, DPP lost direction on human rights, rule of law, governance and donor relations as it became autocratic thereby triggering the July 20 peaceful protests.
Just like what DPP did by tying loose ends left by the UDF government after its good reputation between 1994 and 1999, the ruling Peopleâ€™s Party (PP) has taken a similar approach of rebuilding the local and international confidence lost under the DPP leadership.
For example, PP instead of telling Malawians what its ideologies are ahead of the 2014 elections, the party is focused on mending diplomatic relations, dealing with forex and fuel problems. Of course, these are important matters. But Malawians need to know the partyâ€™s agenda to shrug off accusations that it is a carbon copy of DPP. People want to hear what the party stands for.
Harry Mkandawire, PP deputy secretary general for the Northern Region, discovered that the partyâ€™s focus is to uplift the social well-being of poor people in villages by boosting agricultural production, provision of quality education and health-care services.
No wonder, President Joyce Banda is championing maternal health, business and agriculture sectors.
But DPPâ€™s spokesperson Nicholas Dausi believes that DPP will maintain its conservative focus, aimed at promoting moral aptitude; hence, their staunch denial to legalise homosexuality.
While it is supposed to be a clear cut situation, some political parties tend to hide their political ideologies claiming that they can lose out to their opponents in times of elections. In short, it is more or less a situation of â€˜let us wait and seeâ€™.
But why should Malawi experience this? Political parties have never had normal conventions to legitimise their positions in the last 10 to 15 years. What it means here is that all these leaders have found themselves in these positions by default, without the mandate of masses, which is a dangerous phenomenon in any democracy.
This is why some economists and political analysts think Malawians see no ideological difference in political parties. Arguably, most parties do the same things along the same time span and they also lose focus in the process. How UDF and DPP lost focus in their second terms needs no reminder among Malawians.
“In Malawi, parties are everything and can only be differentiated by name and not ideology. There is same political culture. Ideologies are supposed to be clear and consistent. They should broadly define major society issues,” observes Zuka.
For Lewis Chiwalo a Blantyre-based businessperson, whether political parties have ideologies which could usher them into government come 2014 elections remains the sole responsibility of the parties themselves.
“The onus is on all political parties in the country to ensure that this direction is pursued since there seems to be nothing on the table at the moment,” says Chiwalo.
Based on this, analysts argue there is no democracy without an agenda; similarly, there will be no democracy without ideologies. Successful democracies in the world succeeded because of ideologies. Political parties in Malawi need to do likewise for the countryâ€™s democracy to mature.
Otherwise, as it stands now with 18 years into post-independence democracy, the electorate is yet to see political ideologies based on the way parties do and not that their ideology is at work.